Refugee Services at Lutheran Social Service of MN



hello my name is Yousef Abdi I am the senior director of refugee services for lutheran service of Minnesota I oversee our refugee resettlement program statewide and is basically we work with newly arrived refugee families that are coming to the state of Minnesota we basically work with refugee families as they arrive to the United States and particularly as they come to Minnesota there are a number of things that we provide for these families first of all the process for refugee families starts overseas there is a lot of things that happened for some of the families to be able to come to the United States but one thing we know is that refugees that are coming to Minnesota are coming straight from refugee camps from around the world we have large groups are coming from Korea from Burma who have been spending refugee camps in Thailand for many years we have a number of families coming from East Africa who are from Somalia and have been refugee camps across different parts in East Africa and the process overseas takes very very long time and we know that refugees go through extensive interview security checks medical screening and that's about you know three to five year process for just to do the interviews and we also know Navarrete that refugees refugees are spending about 20 years in refugee camps project can come to the United States so once everything is finalized and said and done refugees are able then to receive final clearance to arrive and we usually our local office will usually receive a notice two or three weeks sometimes even less sometimes one week to prepare for that family's arrival and there's a number of things that we need to do before family gets here first one which is very challenging to manage to secure housing for these families before they arrive so and there's a lot of work that goes into that and then we are then supposed to be meeting with the family at the airport we have a bilingual multilingual case managers who are able to meet the family at the airport were able to speak the family the language of their family and provide that initial greeting we have worked with number of volunteers and number of the ways that congregations other individuals can get involved if they want to work with LSS refugee program we also provide moontak when we get the family into their housing we need to get the case enroll in school we need to work with adults to empower our to apply multiple jobs because for us our only employment is a priority refugees when they arrive they receive very limited funding and so employment is a high priority for us we have been building many many over many years a relationship with employers who will hire refugee clients that we work with my name is Leah Baker I'm the refugee resettlement program manager here at lutheran Social Service so my job is to oversee the caseworkers that work with new families when they first arrive in Minnesota and at MSP airport as Yousef just told you about refugees coming to Minnesota it's about 98 99 % family reunification so almost all refugees coming here have family already here waiting to for them to join them that's and that's a nice luxury we have families are instantly connected to the community they're shown where to go for groceries where to go to worship where to go to school all these things because of such the such a strong family reunification program one thing that your church was involved with was a refugee outfitter program and that's the program that helps refugees with their first initial supplies the things they need right away when they come to furnish their apartment so things like hygiene supplies and cleaning supplies and school supplies so many things and that's just a huge help that helps the family save money to put more of their funds towards their rent until they get that first job okay so the family that we've already supported what what's life like for them right now um so you know the family that you're supported they're connected with their family right they joined family that was already here so they're living together living nearby that family the kids are enrolled in school they're attending school someone daughter for the very first time she's attending any sort of schooling so she just loves it they're adjusting to the cold weather many of our families think that 50 degrees is freezing 60 degrees is freezing so they're adjusting to that parents have been matched with an employment counselor and ESL classes to start that process I'm looking for a job most families have a job by 90 or 120 days sense arrival so three or four months since arrival and then they're just adjusting they're getting new routines what time you know do they go to appointments when do they go to their medical health screen just getting used to a new way of living new climate new geography and then just enjoying to be reunited with their family Youssef you have personal experience with this can you tell us about your your story yeah sure so when my family arrived in Minnesota this was about 18 years ago we went through the refugee process we were living in refugee camp in Kenya and when you go through the refugee process and your family's been interviewed there's a one question that's very important and this is actually the immigration officer asks do you know anybody in the United States if you say yes and you know someone named John who lives in forest-like then your final destination is where John lives in forest-like however if you say no I have no one in the United States you are considered a free case that means you have no connection to the United States so my family at the court one we had over coming to the United States we didn't have no one so I really know where in the world we were going so when we took the journey from Kenya we flew from Nairobi and we landed in a mr. Dom again long flight zero English we were not able to communicate the food in the plane was something that was very strange but I meant we flew from a mister down to New York City when we came to New York City we stayed there one night because the flight wasn't until next day and we went to this nice hotel at that moment we thought oh well we're home because we had no idea we were going and it wasn't until next morning they came knock on the door and they were told us oh we got to catch another flight so when we flew from New York City we landed in Denver Colorado when we came to Denver Colorado there's another fly you need to catch at that time we were so exhausted okay let's just move on so when we flew from Denver Colorado we came to a place called Fargo North Dakota I'm sure a lot of you know we landed in Fargo there was a LSS person was there because that's one of the work one of the requirements to meet the family the airport bless her heart the program manager was there that day and she welcomed us and then she said oh by the way this is not your final destination we need to drive an hour and a half so to get to where we're going and I was like oh my god so we drove in the middle of nowhere open field to Fargo and we land it in a place called Pelican Rapids Minnesota is a small Minnesota town up Northwest close to New York meals in Fergus Falls and porom that time that was you know 7 to 18 years ago that was home for me and when we came to school was already on so one other thing is we could take the kids to school I remember the person from LSS was there at a house next day take us to school and my journey I'm very grateful that I started my journey in talking levels because as I was enrolled as a 6th grader zero English and number of things happen and my first day I never forgot some of the things that took place it was a very exciting time but all I know is that refugees have been in refugee camps and I've actually survived that and we are very fortunate to come to the United States less than 1/2 1% of the world refugees are the ones are coming to the United States that is very small number compared to right now there's about 22 over 23 million refugees that are around refugee camps and less than 1/2 of the population able to leave the refugee camps so for us we were just lucky to leave the camp we had no you know idea what we're going but I'm grateful that we came to Pelican Rapids because that's the best community most fairly community and I'm very grateful that I started my life there I remember the congregation there the first days we came bringing some sweaters and some things for us and because we were not dressed for the weather to stay in the least anyhow refugees work hard they they're going to work you know one of the employers I mentioned earlier employment is very important so my family they were able to get out there's a big turkey processing plant they were able to work and impact meat processing plant and be able to support out of the family and pay the rent so I'm really grateful I've seen a lot of that and I think refugees are now the things have changed if you know if you know somebody because I say you know someone who lives somewhere that's where you're going but if you have no connection you'll find out destinations unknown and that's why it's different nowadays because these communities have now been established in Minnesota well clearly you've you have some personal experience with LSS so why did you start working here and how long have you been working here good question so my journey with LSS started when I was in eighth grade I when I came to the United States and my family was resettled by LSS in small Minnesota town Pelican Rapids they the first amount of group that came into this community when I was in eighth grade there were more families arriving and I again talking reps now it's not there's not a lot of stuff to do small town two stoplights in middle of nowhere and I had time in my hands and there were families who needed translations support so I went to the office and I said I want to volunteer and I want to be into a volunteer interpreter for the office and I was able to do that so I'm very grateful I was able to come on board and to help with my English capacity at that time and my journey then I just stayed on with LSS since eighth grade however this is how it took place I was able to volunteer through high school when I graduate from high school I went to North Dakota State I went to North could go bison I didn't anybody so I went to Fargo and I graduated from North Dakota State and interestingly right before my graduate my graduation year in NDSU the program manager in Minneapolis for the immigration legal services was going back to law school and I had my immigration or the partner Homeland Security certification to practice immigration law while I was actually working and volunteering at LSS I was able to obtain that and because of that I was offered to move and to come to the Minneapolis office to lead our immigration legal services department and I was this is work is very personal to me I had a passion for this job and to support families because I remember coming to this country as a refugee and going through that adjustment and I felt that I was able to now take that leadership role and still still with LSS and I'm very grateful that now we're working with these different families because I know how it feels to come to this country and be able to get that proper support someone who understands that process you

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